President Donald Trump tweeted Friday that he has reversed his administration’s decision to slap new sanctions on North Korea, with his press secretary explaining that he “likes” leader Kim Jong Un and doesn’t think they’re necessary.
It’s unclear, however, which sanctions the president was referencing in his tweet, which took Treasury officials by surprise.
“It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea,” Trump wrote from his private club in Palm Beach.
“I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about which sanctions Trump was referring to. No new action against North Korea was announced by the Treasury Department on Friday, though Trump this week did threaten that new ones could be added.
On Thursday, his administration did sanction two Chinese shipping companies suspected of helping North Korea evade sanctions — the first targeted actions taken against Pyongyang since Trump and Kim met in Hanoi, Vietnam, last month for negotiations about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
The summit ended without a deal.
It was the latest example of Trump’s unusual governance-by-tweet. Trump’s proclamations have often caught agency officials by surprise, leaving them scrambling to figure out what he’s directing and to implement his directives.
Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton had described that step as “Important” action, tweeting, “The maritime industry must do more to stop North Korea’s illicit shipping practices.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Friday that Trump “likes Chairman Kim and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary.”
The White House had said Thursday’s sanctions were evidence the U.S. was maintaining pressure on North Korea in an effort to coax its leader to give up his nuclear weapons program.
The Treasury Department sanctioned Dalian Haibo International Freight Co. Ltd. and Liaoning Danxing International Forwarding Co. Ltd. for using deceptive methods to circumvent international and U.S. sanctions and the U.S. commitment to implementing existing U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Calls to the two companies rang without response Friday or were answered by people who immediately hung up the phone.
The Treasury Department, in coordination with the State Department and the U.S. Coast Guard, also updated a North Korea shipping advisory, adding dozens of vessels thought to be doing ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean tankers or exported North Korean coal in violation of sanctions.
Two senior administration officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. policy on North Korea, said that illegal ship-to-ship transfers that violate U.S. and international sanctions have increased and that not all countries, including China, are implementing the restrictions. They said the deceptive practices include disabling or manipulating ship identification systems, repainting the names on vessels and falsifying cargo documents.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement that fully implementing the U.N. resolutions is key to getting Kim to give up his nuclear weapons program. “Treasury will continue to enforce our sanctions, and we are making it explicitly clear that shipping companies employing deceptive tactics to mask illicit trade with North Korea expose themselves to great risk,” Mnuchin said.